Helen came bouncing through the glass doors, overcoated by brilliant frosty air. She was big, gray and nested comfortably in life like an old cat on an overstuffed chair.
In a second of bad news, Helen’s buoyant face with all its oak-bark creases could drop to a taut mask of fear and vulnerability that made her look young and heartbroken. Most of the time, though, her cheeks and wide mouth and bubble chin lifted high and hugged together in a great warm smile. Standing before that smile was like standing before a great oven moments before fresh bread came out to cool.
Flighty and breathless, Helen never settled on a table or chair. In her daily hours spent at the shop she would rise half a dozen times from one perch to flap quickly to a new decided-on roost. An hour might be spent humming long, tuneless notes watching carefully out of a picture window onto the empty street. Sudden as the wind, she would change to a conspicuous seat at the large central table, bowed in fierce concentration over old puzzles in old newspapers. When a friend pushed quietly into the shop, Helen would bowl aside young laptoppers in their private worlds to make room.
As the sun descended over the town on its way to new westward purchases, Helen left as quickly and decisively as she did anything. In the middle of a puzzle, conversation or observation, she glanced up as if called, excused herself with a hearty throat-clearing, and floated out the door to drift like a dandelion down the windy street.